In the last few years, we've seen Web applications and mobile devices (accessing local applications and Web applications) start to push the traditional desktop out of its dominant usage position. For many consumers, the desktop PC is needed only for typing up a long email or perhaps to do some work in Office. And Office, a media player, and games are often the only local applications that get any use at all. But what about in a business environment? Well, it's starting to look like businesses are going down this path too. Here are 10 reasons why Web applications and mobile devices are going to continue to rise in use for businesses.
1: Lower TCO
Third-party Web applications often look more expensive at first when you compare the cost to a perpetual license. And tablets and phones are now more expensive than a typical low-end PC. So how are they less expensive? Well, the total cost of ownership (TCO) is better. The devil is in the details.
Locally installed application can become a huge time vacuum when they have problems. Even a "free" application isn't cheap when your staff is tied in knots trying to make it work. With third-party Web applications, your support role is minimized. And for mobile devices, there is no "troubleshooting" most of the time. You just grab a new device, log in, and transfer a SIM or Flash card, depending on the device. Even locally installed Web applications are easier to work with, since they leverage common architecture and industry standards instead of a mess of proprietary technologies.
2: Better links with the cloud
As businesses start to see fewer disadvantages and more advantages with public cloud offerings, it is increasingly important for the applications we work with to link to those products. And while there is nothing technically superior about Web and mobile applications for dealing with cloud services, there is a major advantage all the same: They were written from the ground up in a cloud-connected world. Too many desktop applications are bogged down with legacy code or legacy ways of doing things. Even if they wanted to change, they couldn't. But modern applications are built with modern techniques and attitudes, and what we see as a result is that the Web and mobile apps take advantage of cloud services much better than desktop applications do.
Despite some high profile security issues lately, the overall security situation on mobile devices beats the pants off of the traditional Windows desktop, thanks to built-in application sandboxing and data isolation. And once you take the relatively insecure Android out of the mobile mix, it looks even better for the mobile devices.
Likewise, in the highly connected world of IT we find ourselves in, Web applications are no more exposed than any other kind of application much of the time. The administration teams can specialize in securing their apps (unlike the traditional IT department, which has to generalize just to keep the lights on). And attack detection, prevention, and reaction are concentrated in one spot, rather than requiring a vendor to create and distribute a patch and count on customers to install it. In any event, the network connection itself is far less risky than user actions, and Web applications are much more isolated and sandboxed than desktop apps. Other than turning ActiveX on, it is just about impossible for a Web application to infect clients like Office or Acrobat can, unless the attack is through a plug-in like Flash (which is a locally installed application).
4: Tighter control than you would think
It's always been argued that on-premise and desktop applications offer far greater control than Web or mobile applications. And in many ways that is true. For example, with a third-party Web application, you have no control over where your data resides. With that said, there are still some ways you do get a lot of control that you don't see with desktop applications. For example, mobile devices can be remotely wiped (and located, for that matter), but that's a tough trick with laptops. And with a device that does not allow side loading, you can connect it to a business-controlled app store account and monitor what applications are being installed and used; again, not easy with a desktop. With Web applications, you don't need to hope that your central management software can work with the application. You have the control you want and need from the get-go.
5: Built-in connectivity
Sure, your laptop may have WiFi built in — but how many have 3G or 4G connectivity built in? Not many. Once you look at the cost and hassle of adding on a cell modem to your laptop, a smartphone or tablet looks like a great choice for mobile connectivity.
The built-in data connectivity isn't the only piece of fun hardware hiding inside a mobile device; there's also GPS, motion sensors, cameras, and more! These unleash all sorts of application and user interface possibilities that a desktop or laptop just can't match. In addition, it makes the mobile device the go-to device in many situations that the PC used to dominate. As the mobile devices add more CPU power and RAM, expect to see the uses of these sensors explode even further.
7: Simpler UIs
If you really want to participate in a painful exercise, spend a few hours observing a typical non-techie user working with a computer. All of the things we take for granted, like multiple windows on a screen, application switching, even the address bar in a browser, are foreign concepts despite years of experience. How many times have you watched someone go to Google, enter in the URL to the site they want to go to, and then choose the first Google result, instead of just typing the URL into the address bar? The traditional desktop metaphor has proven to be too complex for anyone who is not dedicated to spending lots of time figuring it out. Meanwhile, mobile devices and applications are much easier to understand, and Web developers are getting much better about making clean UIs.
8: Increased user satisfaction
I know that from the IT perspective, it can often seem like all that really matters is that users can get their work done efficiently. But at the same time, liking a system does play a role in user efficiency. After all, if users keep looking for workarounds to the IT-provided systems because they have too much friction, we're just wasting our time, right? Users do seem to be very happy with their mobile devices and Web applications. The "It just works" factor is powerful and undeniable. Why not give them systems they are actually happy with and will want to use instead of circumvent?
9: Better battery life
The low-power CPUs found in mobile devices lets them have a battery life for a semi-ready state that is much longer than what you see in most laptops and notebooks. Sure, PCs can go into various power-saving modes that are pretty close to "instant on." But if you want to receive incoming emails and other messages, the battery life goes down the drain. Meanwhile, it is not too hard to find smartphones with 24+ hours of battery life with moderate usage. And Web apps contribute to longer battery life by pushing the heavy duty CPU and storage usage off the user's device and onto a centralized server.
10: Consumerization of IT
Regardless of whether IT departments are ready for it, the "consumerization of IT" is happening, and it is happening right now under our very noses. While we may think we run a tight ship of highly controlled, locked down PCs, the users are choosing to move their work onto their personal mobile devices or to Web applications they signed up for outside IT's control. We can either keep trying to fight this, which means data is constantly leaking onto devices and services we have no input into, or we can find a way to cooperate with it. And the harder we push back, the faster folks run to their mobile devices and Web applications. It is fairly inevitable, so we need to learn to deal with it now before it overwhelms us.
Justin James is an OutSystems MVP, architect, and developer with expertise in SaaS applications and enterprise applications.